Lost in the Movies: December 2012

The Favorites - Persona (#95)

Again, scheduling conflicts send my Favorites post to a Monday. When the series resumes in January, I will probably return to Wednesday. Meanwhile stay tuned this week. I am going to be very busy with Lost in the Movies. To put it mildly...

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Persona (1966/Sweden/dir. Ingmar Bergman) appeared at #95 on my original list.

What it is • Elisabeth (Liv Ullmann) is mute, by choice apparently. An actress horrified by the world around her (represented by the image of a burning monk in Vietnam) and oddly fascinated by a photo of her young son, her silence seems an alluring mystery. And it's a mystery that we sense Alma (Bibi Andersson), like us, wants to solve. Alma is normal, chatty (she more than compensates for Elisabeth's lack of conversation), and the actress' nurse, watching over her during a recuperative rest at an isolated seashore. She tells Elisabeth all about her life and, as the quiet but intense Elisabeth - taller, enigmatic, more self-possessed than Alma - slowly starts to take over the nurse's fragile mind we don't get closer to any simple answers. Somehow, though, we do feel we're getting closer to the experience, what philosophers might call the "phenomenon," of Elisabeth's withdrawal from the world. The prolific, intensely personal Ingmar Bergman made many celebrated movies, but Persona is often acclaimed as his masterpiece - the most intense, the most personal, at once an icon of 60s art-house chic and a supremely individual expression. At no point moreso than when the babbling Alma, suffering what seems to be a mental breakdown, lets loose a stream of self-doubt and incoherent anxiety. We suddenly sense - with the shock of an epiphany - that Bergman himself is letting down his guard and telling us what it's like inside his own head.

Why I like it •

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 7 - "A Human Work"

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow blogger Bob Clark.

And now for a breather. Sort of. After a six-episode storyline which thrust Shinji right into battle, began to establish his awkward social environment, and drew the bonds tighter between him and his fellow pilot, blue-haired Rei (even more of an outcast than he) we take a step back. This is an episode that is really, well, an episode: a standalone event which explores characters while giving them a one-off challenge mostly unconnected to the rest of the series - this time the enemy is no Angel, but a manmade robot monotonously stomping through a wasteland while its nuclear pacemaker ticks away. It's up to Shinji and Misato to stop it but even if the stakes seem slightly lower this time, we're nonetheless allowed exposition which will nudge us toward some ominous revelations.

Comedy Countdown - Modern Times (a video essay)

My entry in the Comedy Countdown, a video essay on Modern Times mixing and matching three iconic texts on the famous film, from Otis Ferguson, Roland Barthes, and Graham Greene. Enjoy!

Want to read an essay about Chaplin?

Aloud? In my video essay? Right now??

I am preparing my entry in the Wonders in the Dark comedy countdown, which will appear by early tomorrow morning on that site and mine. It's a video essay in which I interweave clips from Modern Times with selections from great pieces by Roland Barthes, Graham Greene, and Otis Ferguson. Right now, the temp track I'm cutting to is my voice narrating all three authors and frankly I'd rather have a variety of narrators especially to cut back and forth between the authors, putting them into conversation without confusion as to whose saying what (at present, I'm using titles to indicate this but shifting voices would of course be easier).

If you want to take a stab at this last-minute adventure, here's what you can do:

1) The essays are listed below. Select one and leave a comment indicating which you've taken (so that if someone else volunteers, they don't take the same one).

2) Read it into your iPhone or other recording device if you have one, and then send me the voice file. If you keep it under 5-7 minutes, or record it in segments less than 5-7 minutes, you should be able to send it in one email. On the iPhone in particular this is very easy to do. My email is movieman0283@gmail.com .

3) Sit back and let me take care of the rest. Unfortunately I'll be away from email for a few hours (so don't ask me, just go for it!), but when I return I'll take what I've gotten and replace my own temp track with your voice. Presto! A Greek chorus of bloggers impersonating critics of old.

I feel a bit like Tom Sawyer whitewashing, haha. But it'll be fun, I promise...

Fair warning, though, if someone has already sent me a recording of one of these I can't guarantee I will use yours. It only takes five minutes, but only take the leap if you're okay with that possibility.

I will see all of you tomorrow morning with my Modern Times video essay regardless of what happens with this option...

The essays follow after the jump:

The Favorites - Dogville (#96)

For what will probably be the only time, "The Favorites" is appearing on a Monday, since my entry in the Wonders in the Dark comedy countdown appears on Wednesday (the normal "Favorites" day) and requires the day to itself.

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Dogville (2003/Denmark/dir. Lars von Trier) appeared at #96 on my original list.

What it is • A very different nightmare on Elm Street. Grace Margaret Mulligan (Nicole Kidman) hides out from gangsters in an all-American small town and eventually the townspeople mix support with exploitation, until she is suffering so greatly at their hands that the gangsters arrive as a force of liberation. The entire film unfolds on a massive soundstage, decorated with a few spare, suggestive props and chalk outlines, a sort of theatrical blueprint. This perverse, fascinating gesture both serves - like the work of playwright and director Bertolt Brecht - to highlight the artificiality inherent in the stories we enjoy (as in Celine and Julie before it), yet the spare set also reminds us how little is really needed for us to fall under the spell of these illusions, since by film's end we're entirely enveloped by the nasty little world of Dogville. On its premiere at Cannes, the film was virulently attacked by viewers and critics who found it misogynistic, misanthropic, and even anti-American. Perhaps it is all of those things, but it's also brutally honest - one of those films in which the director subjects the cast and the audience to psychological games and emotional challenges but doesn't let himself off the hook either.

Why I like it •

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 6 - "Rei II"

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow blogger Bob Clark.

The battle is won, but the drama is not yet over. The evil diamond from outer space, that latest Angel which arrived at the end of last episode, has been slaughtered and lies smoking amongst the wreckage of downtown Tokyo-3; no lights illuminate its lifeless shell, for all the electricity in Japan was diverted precisely to defeat it. Yet in order for Shinji's second power-blast to hit its target, Rei's Evangelion (placed on defense in its first active engagement with the enemy) was forced to fend off the Angel's own firepower with a shield that barely protects the Eva's vulnerable pilot. Her role completed, she now allows the weary mecha-warrior to collapse. Shinji races to its side, the gigantic robot he pilots providing physical power to match the skinny teenage boy's emotional intensity. Leaping from the cockpit to yank open the hatch, he sees that Rei is woozy but okay inside and tears fill his eyes.

Island of Lost Pictures

There's a certain discipline, a certain art if you will, in laying out visual tributes and choosing which screen-caps will top a post. Often something must be sacrificed for the visual flow, and so many striking images - along with some fascinatingly random ones -  get cast by the wayside (sort of like making a film, come to think of it). At other times, the post itself is abandoned or deleted, leaving the headers in limbo.

Recently, while browsing my web albums for other purposes, I noticed numerous pictures that had been uploaded but never posted on the blog. Here they are, lined up in reverse order of when they were supposed to be used - still a limited selection (if I put everything up there'd be thousands of castoffs swarming this column). Nonetheless there's quite a lot here (I stopped counting after the first hundred), including stills and screen-caps borrowed from others, but probably a majority (especially of the top half) were my caps.

Oddly enough, given their chronology, these pictures form a kind of alternate-universe historical overview of Lost in the Movies...

The Favorites - Celine and Julie Go Boating (#97)

Before (or after) reading this review, I hope you'll check out my first narrated video essay, which went up late Monday.

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974/France/dir. Jacques Rivette) appeared at #97 on my original list.

What it is • What if Alice, rather than following a white rabbit down its hole into Wonderland, followed another Alice? Celine and Julie are in the long tradition of female heroines entering a strange world (think not just Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy, but cinematic distaff duos in Mulholland Drive, 3 Women, or Persona) yet the extent to which these two fall into an alternate reality, and the extent to which they are creating it, is never quite clear. An air of mischievous play suffuses the film, as if the actresses - and their director - are making it up as they go along. Julie (Dominique Labourier), the seemingly more sensible Alice of the two, is a librarian who begins to chase and is then followed by Celine (Juliet Berto), our sexy white rabbit, an actress/compulsive liar who muffs Julie's love interest and tells her friends that Julie is her sister. The film's "plot" begins when the two pranksters swallow hard candies which magically transport them inside a strange, seemingly abandoned house where a morose family enacts an ever-repeating melodrama of betrayal, resentment, and grief. It's up to Celine and Julie to rescue a little girl who will be murdered - to reset this fatalistic narrative, to take control over it as they have over their own freewheeling lives. Celine and Julie Go Boating - a hard film to explain, but as much an atmosphere as a story - has been called by David Thomson "the most innovative film since Citizen Kane," and though its innovations are more in the nature of mind games than technical tricks, it really is a trip.

Why I like it •

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